April 13, 2006

Diary of a Sports Junkie's Affliction

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I’ve never met Kevin Pittsnogle, the center for West Virginia’s men’s basketball team. The closest I’ve been to the tattoo-covered human tapestry with the scrappy goatee and Dumbo-esque ears is watching the Mountaineers play on TV from my couch. But, I have seen his wedding photos. And believe me, if a woman standing on the single end of the aisle can talk herself into sashaying towards a 6-11 giant wearing a white top hat and tails with a purple shirt and tie underneath, it must be love.

This is one manifestation of my obsession with college basketball. Need more proof? I’m one of the March-Madness infected nuts that have seen the rap videos LSU’s Glen “Big Baby” Davis made in middle school.

Now, it may seem like I’m coming dangerously close to becoming an arrest-worthy fanatic rather than an enthusiastic fan. But I’m not, I swear – I’m just lucky enough to live in a modern-day utopia where the worlds of sports and the Internet have melded to create a bottomless pit of news, statistics, updates, blogs, rankings, columns, previews, profiles, histories, fan rants, rumors, analysis, photos, brackets, databases and everything and anything else I could possibly want, need or imagine to feed my sports hunger.

These delightful tidbits from Pittsnogle’s and Davis’ pasts were two of my favorite moments from the NCAA championship tournament blog kept on SI.com by Luke Winn. However, the blog was more than just home videos and links to Webshots albums; Winn provided statistical analysis before each of the games from the Elite Eight on – including tempo and efficiency stats courtesy of kenpom.com, another website that appeases my addiction for more, more, and MORE knowledge about college hoops.

Pick your poison – basketball, baseball, football, hockey – for each sport and every league, there’s more information out there than we know what to do with. And even though it’s physically impossible for me to find and consume it all, that hasn’t stopped me from trying. It’s reached the point where I go through withdrawal when I’m cut off from ESPN.com for more than six hours. I’m not kidding – I drove from Ithaca to Boston last Friday, and by the time I hit the New York-Massachusetts border, the muscle in my left eyelid was twitching uncontrollably and I had a craving for sweets.

Forget George Plimpton, the classic wordsmith and pioneering sports journalist. Even Ralph Wiley and Hunter S. Thompson made the switch to espn.com’s Page 2 in the advanced stages of their careers. And they’re the actual journalists. It’s become common, and even fashionable, for the most devoted fans to turn their obsessions into professions. In the March 27 issue of Sports Illustrated, an article about the electronic revolution featured a profile of Aaron Gleeman, a Minnesota Twins aficionado who founded a self-titled website on which he posts 5,000 to 10,000 words a day covering all aspects of his hometown team. “I write almost entirely from bed,” Gleeman told SI. And the college dropout is a success – his site gets 2,500 hits a day.

As a college student, I’m especially vulnerable to the plethora of sports information on the Internet. It’s a wonderful way to procrastinate, and I won’t lie – although I hope my mother’s not reading this – I missed a class in March because I was reading up on the George Mason team. Come on, the greatest Cinderella story of my lifetime or another PowerPoint lecture? No contest.

Maybe it’s a phase. Bill Simmons (a.k.a. The Sports Guy, a.k.a. The Guy Every College Sportswriter Wants To Be) started his online career with his own website and moved on to espn.com’s Page 2. He’s made a career out of staying away from the media hordes seeking exclusive interviews, instead writing from a fan’s perspective. He’s the prophet of a new sports religion – where observation, opinion, and statistics you can formulate from your own couch are enough to prompt fans to pen miles of blogged Internet gospel. He told SI he has about 18 to 20 months left before he wears out his welcome and steps down. If and when he retires, he’ll leave behind devastated fans (including me) and a loud, raucous multitude that can type upwards of 80 words per minute eager to fill the void with blogs of their own. The broadbands, airwaves – however this new-fangled technology works – are filled with fans who fancy themselves experts and are sending thousands of words into cyberspace by the hour for consumption by the giddy masses of sports fans on the hunt for every scoop and scrap of rumor.

Social scientists used to worry that America’s youngsters were watching too much TV. I’d hazard a guess that the research projects down the road will tell parents to worry that their kids are too plugged in. And before you judge me, ask yourself this – when was the last time you logged on to elynah.com?

Olivia Dwyer is the Sun Sports Editor. Forever Wild will appear every other Thursday this semester.

Archived article by Olivia Dwyer